Film critics are out of touch with public opinion, study finds

Tom Butler
·Senior Editor
·2-min read
Audiences were divided over Ad Astra and Venom (Twentieth Century Studios/Sony Pictures)
Audiences were divided over Ad Astra and Venom (Twentieth Century Studios/Sony Pictures)

A new analysis has revealed that the gap between what film critics think of movies — compared to the opinion of the general public — has grown in recent years.

In a blog post entitled "Are film critics losing sync with audiences?", cinema data analyst and film producer Stephen Follows looked into the critical response to 10,449 films released in US cinemas between 2000 and 2019 (via Metacritic), and compared the reviews to the audience scores on IMDb.

The analysis revealed that although critics and audiences broadly agree for most of the time, critical opinion has diverged from audience reactions more and more since the turn of the millennium.

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The data suggests the largest divergence in opinion happens in the most divisive film genres: action, thriller and sci-fi films are "crowd-pleasers" and are often preferred 'more by audiences than by critics', while "critical darlings" — westerns, historical films and documentaries — are generally better reviewed by critics than audiences. 

The last 20 years has seen an increase in the number of films released in three out of four of the most divisive genres — thriller, documentary, history — (the action genre has remained steady), which could explain some of this divergence in opinion.

Follows' analysis also shows that lower budget films (under $20m) tend to be more divisive too, which is another area of film which has increased in output over the last 20 years too.

Films that have enjoyed stronger audience reactions compared to critical reviews recently include Tom Hardy's Venom (29% on Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer vs 81% audience approval) and Gerard Butler's 2019 action romp Angel Has Fallen (38% critical rating vs 93 audience score).

Conversely, recent critical darlings that audiences shrugged at include Brad Pitt space drama Ad Astra (83% approval from critics vs 40% from audiences) and heist reboot Ocean's 8 (69% approval by critics, but just 45% approval from audiences).

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